My Big Break
How photographing the majestic musk ox made Roy Mangersnes’ career
Nearly 400 kilometres north of Norway’s capital city of Oslo lies Dovrefjell National Park, a vast and pristine wilderness. This is the domain of the musk ox, a stocky beast with a massive head and thick coat adapted to the worst extremes of the Arctic climate. Four years ago, Roy Mangersnes spent a week in Dovrefjell for the sole purpose of photographing and filming these impressive beasts.
“The musk ox is an Ice Age giant,” says Roy. “They used to wander up there alongside the woolly mammoth, 40,000 years ago. The plan was to spend one week in the field to capture the essence of the life of the musk ox. I wanted really rough weather with gale force winds to get that shot.”
Working in the first week of January, Roy got the rough weather he was seeking as temperatures plunged to -20°C.
It wasn’t the first time he had photographed musk oxen, but spending such a prolonged period on location in the harshest part of winter was a new challenge. “It was quite an eye-opener,” Roy admits, “and I learnt more about myself as a photographer.”
But there was more to this venture than getting images of musk oxen shaking snow from their shaggy coats. Roy was working with a videographer and an assistant to record a pilot film for a television pitch. “I was the presenter. We wanted to make a series called
Behind the Lens, about wildlife photographers and how we go about our work.”
Each day began with the three men hauling their gear up the slopes on sleds for two hours to get to the oxen before sunrise, except for one day when they camped overnight on location. Roy had three Nikon D3s bodies with him, but broke one – along with a 70-200mm zoom lens – when the wind blew his tripod over onto ice.
Although the team finished their film, the television series wasn’t commissioned. However, Roy still regards this image and the experience surrounding it as a ‘game changer’. He explains: “I knew I loved the Arctic and working in the cold and the snow, but spending so much time with these animals, in this environment, with this weather, made me focus on those conditions even more. In that sense it was a game changer because it took me to the place where I wanted to be.”
This experience also had more tangible rewards: thanks to this photograph, Roy was named the overall winner of the 2013 Global Arctic Awards.